WILD INCORPORATED passes a goal

It was a goal that I set for myself and it was almost completely arbitrary.

I told myself I wasn’t going to start working on another WILD INCORPORATED book until the first one passed a certain economic milestone. I told myself I wasn’t going to write one more damned word until the first book turned this particular corner.

Well, today it happened. This little book earned itself enough revenue that I felt it was worth putting the work into the sequel, THE DEADLY MISTER PUNCH.

So to all you magnificent bastards who laid down your hard earned cash on a copy of this book, be it e-book or paperback, you have helped to earn a sequel. I owe you a debt of gratitude. That includes anyone who is reading this post on this day who knows they have bought a copy of THE SHATTERED MEN.

Now, if you buy a copy after this date I am no less grateful to you and I can happily assure you that there will be a second book and, quite probably, a third and a fourth and a fifth and maybe even a sixth novel in the series.

But that’s on all you wonderful readers who have purchased a copy on or before the date of this post. So pat yourselves on the back. And those of you who come afterwards, you all owe these guys, ladies, trans, non-binary, what have you people a drink!

Thanks again readers! I gotta get workin’.

The Shattered Men: An Excerpt

All art by M. D. Jackson

Once he hit the street, Harry stopped running, forcing himself to adopt an easy walk. He slowly headed back the way he and Sarah had come originally. He gritted his teeth as he walked, trying to look nonchalant. It wasn’t easy. After what he’d just seen Harry wanted nothing more than to run away screaming.

The scarred man with the knife had seen him, He’d looked right at him. He’d seen Harry’s face and knew that he had witnessed what had gone down in the alley. Harry’s heart was pounding and his head felt hot. He was witness to a crime and in his experience a witness was not a safe thing to be.

But what exactly had he witnessed?

He shook his head and pushed away the vision of the big gunman turning into so much black powder. He also had to forcibly push the image of Sarah staring up into the sky with sightless eyes, He had to calm himself. He had to think about the situation at hand.

First things first, he thought. Have to try to look casual and blend in. That shouldn’t be too difficult. A young, brown-skinned, okay-looking East Indian man would not look out of place wandering the streets of the Big Apple.

The only problem was his tee shirt

It was bright blue with a lemon yellow logo on the breast. The logo was designed specifically for the Ontario New Hope Evangelical Church’s Mission to the Homeless and it showed a dove with a twig in its mouth winging its way over a cross with the sun rising behind. Harry’s jeans and sneakers were nondescript enough but the godawful ugly tee-shirt was as distinctive as a neon sign and it had to go.

Harry had cash. It wasn’t his.

It had been collected from the good parishioners of the New Hope Church for the express purpose of helping the homeless on the streets of New York. Sarah had it in a leather belt pack. Before he’d scampered out of the alley he’d unzipped the pack and pulled out the cash, trying not to look at the pool of blood that had been growing from underneath the back of her head onto the alley’s dirty concrete. He stuffed the cash into his front pocket and ran.

He had felt a twinge of guilt at that. Not about taking the money (he’d already justified that with the fact that he was now one of New York’s homeless and needed help getting off the streets) but about leaving Sarah’s body in the alley. He tried not to think how long it would take for her to be discovered or how many rodents would be gnawing on her remains by nightfall.

Harry spied a store with an open front that sold candy bars, gum and scarves. He saw a rack with tee shirts. Bingo.

Harry stepped up to the rack and grabbed a black tee-shirt with a Megadeth logo printed on the front. It would do.

As he made his way towards the cash register his foot kicked something on the floor. It was a black leather wallet with a logo he didn’t recognize – a stylized red ‘W’ – on the floor below a wire mesh tray filled with faux leather wallets.

He’d need a wallet for the cash. He picked it up off the floor, then grabbed a pack of Beeman’s gum before cashing out.

The man behind the cash register was an older Asian man. The man scanned the tee shirt and the gum but couldn’t find a price tag on the wallet. “Five bucks,” he shrugged.

Harry handed over the cash and walked out. He ducked into an alley, exchanged the New Hope Church for Megadeath, stuffed the cash into the wallet and popped a stick of gum into his mouth. He stuffed the old tee shirt into a garbage can on the street and kept moving.

As he walked Harry heard sirens wailing in the distance. Some sort of emergency was still going on north of where he was. He could see the occasional fire truck making its way up distant streets. He decided to head South.

He needed to find a bus depot. He had enough cash to buy a Greyhound ticket back to Toronto. The only problem would be what story to tell about what happened and why.

Harry had joined the church mission as part of his community service. The community service was a condition of his parole. The Church group had gone to a lot of trouble to include him in the mission, filling out forms and consulting with his parole officer. Harry was determined to stay out of trouble.

Being witness to a murder wasn’t staying out of trouble. Particularly when one of the murderers knew what you looked like.

Hauling his ass back home was clearly the right thing to do from a survival standpoint, but he’d have to be careful how he sold it to his parole officer.

His parole officer was a plain looking woman with a bleeding heart. Harry had learned quickly that she was a sucker for the right kind of sob story. He could sell his flight back to Toronto as blind panic. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

The only problem was the money he’d stolen from Sarah’s corpse – the money he’d stolen from the church. That was a bit of a problem. He could hear her asking the question: “If you were that scared then why did you stop long enough to take the money?”

Harry’s stomach rumbled. He needed a quiet place to think.

Read the rest here:

The Shattered Men: An Excerpt

or buy the book!

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An excerpt from DEBT’S HONOR

Debt's Honor CoverHere is an exclusive, available nowhere else excerpt from my new novel, DEBT’S HONOR:

Jefferson Odett would have been fine if he’d just kept going, but he had to stop when he heard the voice of a dead man.

The shuttle settled down on a featureless plain on a dirty ball of a planet that was their rallying point before the troops were sent again to engage the enemy. A light drizzle from the perpetually overhanging clouds turned the ground into a sloppy mud pit and Odett’s boots squelched in and out of it with every step. His mood was already grim and this weather improved nothing.

He spied a part of the field that looked a little more passable. The mud was broken up by large rocks. He was making towards it when his communicator chimed. Updates. Orders. He didn’t bother opening the message. There would be plenty of time for that once he was warm and dry.

The first of the temporary shelters came into view. They were pre-fab constructs that had the benefit of being a barrier against the elements and little else. There were groups of them arranged to some order by various commanders. Individually the arrangement must have made some sort of sense but to Odett’s eye it was just a jumble of small huts surrounded by miserable figures wearing rain gear and looking as grim as Odett felt.

His own men were some yards away yet. He could not tell where. There was a map on his communicator but Odett did not want to look at it right now. He wanted to concentrate on his footing. He trusted he would stumble upon his men sooner or later or they would stumble upon him. They were bound to be keeping an eye out for him.

As he leaped from one rocky outcrop to another, trying to avoid a muddy patch in between, Odett heard the voice that made him stop. It belonged to a man he thought had been dead for over two years.

“I saw the bladeships with my own eyes…” the voice was saying. “I saw it carve up the transport like it was nothing! I barely escaped with my life!”

Odett looked in the direction the voice had come from. A group of soldiers were gathered round to hear the tale the voice spouted. They were an Earthborn division. Odett could tell by their uniforms and their gear, which was new and up to date and hardly used. He pushed his way through the group of soldiers, garnering stern looks as he did so, but he didn’t care. He had to know.

There he was, surrounded by a group of admiring Earthborn soldiers, looking clean and scrubbed as if he hadn’t had to lift a finger for anything.

Winters.

Odett could see he was a captain now. Unlike Odett, he likely hadn’t earned the title. He’d probably purchased it with the prize money he’d been awarded for the capture of Albert Carlysle, a wanted prisoner that Odett had, in actuality, recognized and captured – a prisoner who had saved his life aboard the Emperor Malthius.

That was the last time Odett had seen Winters aboard that damned ship. Odett had assumed Winters died with all the other soldiers.

But here he was, telling his tale to a rapt audience.

“The thing… the Kreoch ship… just clamps on to the unsuspecting ship. The Kreoch warship is like a great knife that cuts into the ship, ripping it apart.”

Odett sighed inwardly. Everyone knew that now. When he’d told the admiralty about it after he’d made it back to Earth they had a hard time believing his incredible story. Since then there had been documented proof of the existence of the Kreoch bladeships, and the unimaginable damage they cause to hapless vessels unfortunate enough to encounter them.

“How many Kreoch did you kill?” a voice asked.

Winters shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. It was all a blur and I didn’t keep count.

“Hard to kill Kreoch when you’re cowering in a lifepod,” a voice countered.

Odett was somewhat surprised to realize that the voice was his own. He’d thought it and said it aloud without meaning to.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

Generating Copy

 

generating copy

I work at a newspaper. I do graphics and occasionally write advertising copy, but I work alongside the reporters. There have been directives that come down from the head office of the chain’s digital department. The directives never talk about writing or reporting. They talk about “generating copy”.

Personally I can’t think of a more insulting term than “generating copy”. That cold, clinical phrase completely guts what it is that reporters actually do. It eviscerates the process of writing in any form. The process of creating, of digging into your soul for a few measly crumbs of insight and then weaving that insight, feeling, or even just information into words — the right words — that create a cohesive passage that speaks to the reader in ways that not only make sense and impart information but touches something inside of them…

To label that as merely “generating copy” is the act of a soulless cretin. It’s a phrase that comes from someone who has never seen anything of the wonder or the beauty of the world. It is a phrase uttered by a lifeless, heartless, soulless zombie stuffed into a suit. It is the most insulting kind of corporatespeak and the more I think about it the angrier I become.

The problem is, I have been listening to these bums. They talk about how anyone who wants to get “traction” out of their blogs have to follow the steps on the ladder to increase traffic to your site and post pieces that generate “swagger”.

I’ve been listening to them, trying to do just that because I think that I need to chase some mythical ideal audience in order to “move more units” (i.e: sell books)

I am unable to do that and up until now it’s been getting me down. It wasn’t until I thought about the phrase “generating copy” that I realized what a load of cow dung it all is.

I’m a writer. I write because I am compelled to order my chaotic thoughts, to try to make sense of the jumble of random noise that fires off inside my head. I am moved to give voice in some way to the painful yearning that occasionally grips my soul. I am compelled to reach out to try to communicate my inner turmoil to somebody… anybody… or maybe just out into the void. It doesn’t matter.

I write because I have to. I write because I have no other way to say what it is I need to say. I’m not trying to drive traffic or create “swagger” and I am not just “generating copy”

This is me. This is my mind and my spirit running free and playing, leaving footprints in the sand in the form of these words. The cold and unemotional format of electronic words on an LCD field of blue-white is all that is afforded to me, but while I can I will try to breathe a bit of life into it now and then.

Anything else is just generating copy.

Dark Worlds Magazine

MDJackson_Darkworldsheader

Fellow AMAZING STORIES blogger and fellow Canadian R. Graeme Cameron recently published the first issue of a science fiction magazine called Polar Borealis. I congratulate R. Graeme on his achievement. It is certainly not easy to publish a magazine today and doing it the way R. Graeme is doing it, paying contributors up front and making the magazine available for free, is not for the faint of heart. That kind of endeavour requires a lot of faith.

I know this because of my experience with Dark Worlds Magazine.

Dark Worlds Magazine was an effort to recapture the excitement of the old days of the pulp magazines. Magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction and Weird Tales. It was also an experiement in producing a magazine in the new print-on-demand marketplace.

Ultimately it was an experiment that failed.

DarkWorlds1Myself and former Amazing Stories blogger G. W. Thomas launched the first issue back in 2008. If the cover was to be believed it was a SPECTACULAR FIRST ISSUE! Indeed, the first issue featured a lot of very talented writers and artists. C. J. Burch contributed a fantastic feature story. We also had stories from Joel Jenkins, David Bain, Robert Burke Richardson, J. F. Gonzalez and Brett Tallman. It featured illustrations by myself and G. W. Thomas as well as Samuel DeGraff and Aaron Sidell.

I was art director and sole production department. I was obsessive about the form that the magazine took. I wanted it to look so much like the old pulp magazines as to be indistinguishable from them.

That worked to our advantage in our print editions but was a considerable detriment to the electronic editions which, at first, was only the .pdf file used for the print edition. Because I stubbornly stuck to the two-column text layout favored by the pulp magazines, the pdf’s were a challenge to read on most devices at the time.

DW3Later e-editions featured the text only with no attempt at formatting and no illustrations. I did not pay much heed to these editions, considering that they paled in comparison to the print edition layout. I have since learned what a mistake that was. The e-book has become a much more desired format among readers. All the fancy typesetting and layout that goes into a print edition is lost in that format. But to disregard it as unimportant is certainly not a wise move.

A second issue followed in 2008 with stories by Joshua Reynolds, David A. Hardy and Jack Mackenzie among others. In 2009 the magazine published a story by writer Michael Ehart, The Tomb of the Amazon Queen which was nominated for a Harper’s Pen award.

In 2010 and again in 2011 the magazine itself was nominated for a Pulp Ark Award for Best Pulp Magazine.

DW5_CoverAfter issue four I decided to change the format. For our first four issues we published as a standard trade paperback size, that is; 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall. That is the format that most print-on-demand books prefer. But I was still obsessed with reproducing the old pulp magazines as closely as possible. With issue number 5 we switched to a Crown Quarto format which is slightly larger than a trade paperback at 7 ½ inches by 10 inches, a size which I felt better approximated the old pulp sizes. At this point we had switched from doing everything in Microsoft Word to laying out in Adobe InDesign. This allowed me a lot more freedom to be creative with the layout. Unfortunately I was still stubbornly holding on to the two-column format for the text, which made for a fantastic print layout but was a challenge for those who preferred the e-editions.

With the new layout production began to require more time and our output slowed. Sales slowed as well, as they had steadily since the first issue. We were constantly hopeful that they would pick up but, alas, they never did. With our 6th issue the writing was on the wall and Dark Worlds Magazine folded.

dark-worlds-6_cover_frontonly1We did learn some lessons along the way. One was that a magazine needs to have a bit of a focus. I think that Dark Worlds was a bit too inclusive. Were were fans of all genres of pulp from the weird tales, to sword and sorcery, to science fiction and to western. I think our subject matter was too wide to appeal to readers in such a niche market. A magazine tends to do better if it has a narrower focus, a specific kind of story that a specific type of reader would enjoy. Dark Worlds tried to be too many things at once.

The biggest lesson, however, was not to ignore the e-book market. Print-on-demand was too pricey a proposition to compete with mass market printing (and even that is too pricey an option for many publishers these days). Catering to e-readers would probably have gone a long way towards selling more copies.

I hope that R. Graeme has found a better way with Polar Borealis. I wish him every success in a very challenging marketplace.

And, if anyone is interested, the final issues of Dark Worlds Magazine are still available here and here, but it won’t be for much longer. Check them out if you are so inclined.

On Fuel Pumps and Being a Manly Man

There are certain things that men are just supposed to know… things that I simply don’t.

At least that’s how it feels, especially if one lives in a rural area like I do. There are a lot of men about who know an awful lot about cars and how to fix them.

I am not a guy like that. I can fix your computer. I can swap out a hard drive, I can figure out why your e-mail isn’t working. I can help you convert your photos to jpegs so that you can send them to your Aunt Iris in Melbourne.

But I can’t tell you anything about a fuel pump except that it makes it very difficult to make your car go if it’s not working properly. The mechanic will tell you “Just hit it a couple a’ times with a wrench while you’re starting the car. That’ll help.” Which sound good except that I couldn’t tell you where it was in order to hit it with a wrench, providing I was able to dig one out of the little cardboard box where I keep my tools.

Okay, I might be in danger of loosing my “man” card with this post, but let me just say that I have successfully replaced a kitchen faucet and unblocked a drain with a snake. I have replaced the bulbs in headlights and tail lights and I can jump start your car if you need a boost.

I’m a smart man. But hanging out with a couple of mechanically inclined men can make a guy like me feel like a special kind of stupid. My wife’s friend’s boyfriend Jim and her son Thomas are great guys, though. They walked me through where the fuel pump is, showed me how to tap it with a hammer just right. They also told me that I wouldn’t have to drop the gas tank in order to get it out. Then they told me some funny stories about guys who dropped the gas tank and didn’t disconnect the ground wire first. “‘Course the tank’s still got fuel in it which makes it heavy. You unhook it, it drops and your ground wire’s done.” they laughed.

Heh. Yeah. Good thing I don’t have to do that.

The moral of this story is that I only have to pay about $100 for a new fuel pump and swapping it out will be easy. Easy for Jim and Thomas, that is. Not so much for non-mechanical Jack here. I can write you an exciting story about a guy who needs a new fuel pump but I’m afraid when it comes to actually installing the new one I’m not much help.

Unfortunately replacing the pump will have to go on hold for about a week. I have a daughter who is getting married and we’re going to be busy maxing out our credit cards for the next week. We needed to rent a car for that anyway so the old Chrysler’s going to sit, sad and forlorn until we can get around to it.

So, if you’re on Amazon and you’re looking for something to read, please think about old non-mechanical Jack and buy one of his books or stories for your kindle. It won’t cost you more than $5 and it will help me out immensely when I am stony broke next week and unable to drive anywhere.

You can just click on any of the titles that look interesting to the right of this post, or visit my amazon.com page and make your selection. Science fiction or fantasy, if you like ’em, I got ’em. It’s a win-win. You get an exciting book to read on your Kindle and I get to keep driving around and putting food on the table.

Coming Soon: Time Like Broken Glass

Time Like Broken Glass_Cvr

“In a world of magic one city is the focal point for a desperate struggle that is fought through all of time.

Mages harness the powers of different elements – air, fire, ice, metal, even death – and wield that power in their struggle to survive. But one powerful mage can cantrol time itself. Now mages and mortals alike find themselves allied against that power and three heroes, separated by vast gulfs of time, must find a way to save the magic, the great city and existence itself.”

This is my first fantasy novel and it will be released in the next couple of days from RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Look for a longer post about the book and about the universe in which it is set: Magistria!

DEBT’S PLEDGE and the Bechdel Test

134BechdelTest

So, my daughter came home for Christmas, which is enough of a Christmas present for her mother and I. While on the Greyhound she passed the time reading a trade paperback edition of my book, Debt’s Pledge. When she pulled the book out of her backpack she told me she was only three quarters of the way through. I asked her what she thought about it.

“Well, first thing; your book would not pass the Bechdel Test”, she said.

For those of you who don’t know, the Bechdel Test (sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule) is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that what she had told me was very true. There are several women characters in the book, and most of them are strong characters. Some are more feminine than others but none are shrinking violets. However, the book’s main character is Jefferson Odett and the entire book is told from his point of view. It’s not told in the first person, but the third person narrative is deliberately limited to Odett’s point of view. That makes it kind of difficult to pass the Bechdel Rule.

I admitted as much to my daughter.

“Also,” she continued. “Why do all the women characters all have to have some sort of relationship with Odett? It’s like they’re all there just as sex objects for him”

“Wait,” I said, trying to think. I’m writing the sequel but the details of the first book aren’t as fresh in my head as they are in hers. “What about Amy Brown, the guildswoman?” I asked.

My daughter nodded. “Yeah, I was hoping that she would be different, but then you ruined it by having them kiss!”

Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about that. “Well… okay… but…”

“And where are the feels, Dad? The book has no feels!”

Feels? The book’s got feels!” I protest.

“No it doesn’t” said my wife, which caught me off guard.

“I thought you loved my book.”

“I do. But you’re daughter’s right. It’s got no feels.”

At this point I felt a bit out of my depth. “Well… I set out to write a vary manly book…” I heard myself saying. “It’s a manly book… for manly men!”

They both looked at me like I was some sort of special mental case. I felt a bit like one.

“Well…” I sputtered. “The sequel will be better.”

“Dad,” my daughter said. “You know you wouldn’t get this kind of honest criticism from someone who didn’t love you, right?”

It was true. I had received a negative review… honestly, the worst review the book has garnered so far, from the two people whose opinions I value the most… and yet, I never felt so loved.

Family is funny that way.

Whatever your faith, however you choose to celebrate (or even if you don’t), I hope you all have a good holiday season and that it is filled with warmth and love.

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Okay. This is a bit of an experiment and, for me, a scary one. I am going to be posting my first draft novella THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION in parts to this blog. The scary part is that I am only halfway finished writing the thing.

So I am going to be posting one part every week and hopefully by the time I get to where I left off I will have written more to post. And if I run out of material, well then I’m just going to have to write by the seat of my pants and hope that it all makes sense in the end.

The final version will eventually be available as an e-novella from Rage Machine books. That version will be different from the one posted here on the blog (better written, more coherent one would hope).

So, why am I doing this? Partly to get myself motivated to finish the thing. I could give myself a deadline but I am usually far to forgiving with myself when it comes to those. Involving the readers of this blog seemed like a better way to go about it. I’m also hoping to get some feedback.

Also, since this is a prequel to my novel THE MASK OF ETERNITY, I am hoping to gain some cross promotion and generate some interest.

So, here it is, part one of THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION:

1. URWALD

“DeLacey! What in the name of the Eternal Void do you think you’re doing?”

Solis DeLacey started when the Lieutenant’s voice shouted into her earphone. She looked up and saw the shuttle coming through the bay doors, headed right towards her and knew that she had just made the biggest and the last mistake of her life.

She’d pulled a zero-g rotation in the shuttle bay. She’d been assigned to one of the Empress Jade’s maintenance shifts and had spent the morning harnessed to the wall of the docking bay, moving from station to station, checking readouts and effecting minor repairs when necessary.

That was when her harness became tangled. She unhooked herself from the guide ring and hadn’t hooked a second one beforehand — standard procedure. While she was busy trying to untangle her harness she had floated into one of the shuttle laneways.

Now the Lieutenant, a JG whose name she didn’t know, but who everyone just called “Black Pete” was shouting into the earphone of her helmet, and death in the form of an 82,000 pound shuttle was hurtling towards her and there was nothing that could stop it.

She felt the collision sooner than she expected it hit her in the side, knocking the wind out of her. Suddenly she was hurtling out of control. The hanger bay was tumbling around her and she lost all sense of up, down, backwards and forwards. She spun around and saw a splash of red, then something covered her faceplate and she couldn’t see.

She felt hands grabbing at her, it seemed from every which way. There was a confusing cacophony of voices in her headphones — shouted crosstalk that sounded like gibberish in her ears. She heard Black Pete shout “Oh, Dear God, No! NO!” but the rest was an indecipherable jumble.

The hands were slowing her spinning. She had closed her eyes to prevent vertigo but opened them now and everything was red. She tried to wipe away what was covering her faceplate but a hand grabbed at her arm, stopping her. A small part of her faceplate was clear and she could see a helmeted face in front of her. The face’s mouth was working but she could not hear what it was saying. It must have been speaking into a different frequency.

Then she was turned around. She got a brief glance at her arms and legs. She seemed intact, but there was something red all over her suit. She looked up and saw little red globules floating all over the hanger deck. She caught sight of a wall that was streaked with red and realized that it was blood.

She felt a hot panic burning in her head. Was she injured? She didn’t feel injured, she felt fine. Then what…?

Suddenly she could hear Black Pete’s voice in her earphone “Get her out of here! Get that stupid bitch out of my hanger deck!”

The hands pulled her along and that was when she saw the crushed atmosphere suit floating amongst the red globules, The suit was torn open and inside she could see more red — a deeper, darker red — almost black.

That was when a black fog seemed to swallow her up.

***

She woke up in the infirmary. She had a brace on her neck. She blinked her eyes open and Bruno Varagas was by her bedside. “You really screwed up this time, Kid,” Bruno said. Bruno was her shift leader. He was handsome and affable and had taken Solis under his wing right from her first day aboard the Empress.

“What happened? she tried to ask. Her neck hurt like hell and her throat felt closed up and dry.

Bruno got a cup of water from a spigot and she drank gratefully. “You didn’t put on a secondary hook,” Bruno said. “How many times have I had to remind you about that?”

The accident came back to her then and the sight of the suit leaking dark blood. “Who was it who… who…” she couldn’t finish.

“Her name was Hannah Callin.”

“Callin? Oh, God…” Lord Admiral Callin was the father of the Terran Fleet, His family had built Earth’s space navy from the early days of contact and expansion. If your last name was Callin you were destined for greatness in whatever field you chose.

“Yeah. She was one of Lord Admiral Callin’s nieces. She was an exemplary cadet with a near perfect record. Needless to say no one is very happy at the moment.”

Solis felt tears welling up behind her lids. “Why didn’t she just let me pay or my own mistake…?”

Bruno shook his head. “I don’t know. Personally I think the Callins are wound too tight. That, and they think they’re invincible.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She reached up to wipe them away but her IV wouldn’t let her. “So what happens to me? Do I get bounced?”

“Well… not exactly.” Bruno pulled out a clip-pad. “They wanted to bust you back dirtside but we got a communique from a Kyann ship that needs some extra help. I managed to get your name on that list.”

“A Kyann ship?” Kyann and Terra were equal partners in the Commonwealth but they generally kept their fleets separate. “At least it’ still in the Commonwealth. I guess it’s better than being transferred to the Orion Hegemony.”

“Don’t laugh. There were some who talked about selling you as a slave to a Kruath ore freighter. They might have done it as well except Kruath has broken off diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth… again. You know how the Kruath feel about Terrans.” he said. Solis nodded. The Kruath hated Terrans with a particular vehemence.

“I argued for the Kyan because right now it’s your best chance to stay in the Void. Unless you want your sorry ass dragging in the dirt?”

Solis tried to smile. “Thank you, Bruno.”

“Don’t thank me. There’s little chance you’ll ever serve on a Terran ship again and you likely won’t be back to the Empress. Kyann ships emphasize discipline and there’s rumors that Kyannum officers still tear out subordinate’s throats to enforce it.”

***

The Kyann vessel Kr’kt’kt pulled alongside the Empress Jade. Solis was still wearing the brace on her neck, her unruly curls were still wet from the shower. She’d gone from the infirmary to her quarters to shower, change, pack a duffel and then rush to the airlock.

There was a small group of cadets and a few officers who were waiting for the airlock to cycle through. She stopped in the entrance. One of the cadets, a thin-faced young man with a sneer, turned and looked at her. “Hey look,” he said. “It’s a giraffe!”

Solis felt her cheeks go hot. She was certain that her face had turned scarlet as every eye turned to stare at her. At 6 foot two inches she had always towered over her fellow cadets and she took the occasional good natured comment, but this was nasty.

“Belay that, Hathan,” one of the officers, an older, balding man, scowled.

The airlock cycled open then and the group turned and began entering single file. Solis took up the rear. They filed out the Empress Jade’s airlock, through the interstice and into the Kr’tk’tk’s airlock. They bundled in and the airlock closed behind Solis. Then the room began to spin. It felt like the entire airlock were moving under her feet.

Solis had heard about the Kyann airlock designs. Instead of extending outwards like the airlocks on Terran ships, the Kyann had a swivel structure. That meant that the rear door now became the front.

The airlock stopped moving and locked in place, and the airlock hatch that had been behind her, but was now in front of Solis, began to cycle open.

Solis looked up… and up. The Kyann that stood in the open hatchway was a good foot taller than her and she was the tallest of the group. He was lean and muscular and his body bristled with fur. He looked down at solis with unnaturally green eyes.

“Welcome aboard,” the Kyann rumbled.

To be continued…

THE MASK OF ETERNITY

I am super excited about this!

I am pleased to announce that THE MASK OF ETERNITY, my first full-length science fiction novel, is now available exclusively for Kindle!

THE MASK OF ETERNITY is exciting Space Opera about a forgotten world, a powerful artifact and a galaxy on the brink of war.

Solis DeLacey, captain of the Alpha Centauri Sol Collective vessel Boston, has been sent to a newly discovered world rich in natural resources. But one ship, the Empress Jade and her crew has already gone missing while surveying the planet, dubbed Bounty, and the finger of suspicion is pointing directly to the heart of the Orion Hegemony, the ACSC`s sworn enemy.

DeLacey, her crew and a ship full of scientists find a world teeming with life including the enigmatic natives of Bounty, the Shum. The planet seems like a paradise where life does more than thrive, it excels.

But when they find the wreckage of the the Empress Jade, they also find definitive evidence that the Hegemony was involved in her destruction.

With the arrival of a Hegemony vessel crewed by Da’baa’kh, ruthless, animal-like soldiers, the game changes. The Da’baa’kh are hell bent on finding an ancient treasure – an artifact powerful enough to bring an entire Collective to its knees.

Now DeLacey must discover its secret and defeat her enemies before the galaxy is plunged into total war…

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PROLOGUE

Captain Bruno Varagas let out a whistle as he scanned the report on his personal screen.

“That was my reaction, too,” First Officer Rosalyn Bramner said. “This confirms the initial probes.”

“More than confirms them, Rose,” Varagas said, shaking his head at the data that continued to scroll. “They’re going to be having fits back home.”

HG711, according to Johannson’s report, was teeming with life. Its atmosphere was more than just tolerable to human beings, it was ideal. The vegetation was so perfect for human digestion it was difficult to believe that it had not been made that way. “If I didn’t know better, I’d would swear that this was a world in the later stages of terraform.” He looked up at Major August, the leader of the Servitude’s ground troops, who was still standing beside his chair. “Is Johannson still planetside?”

“Yes, sir,” August said. His face was tanned and Varagas thought his eyes looked clearer than they had since they’d re-directed here from Acrux.

Varagas narrowed his eyes at the lanky ground mission chief. “How long were you dirtside?” he asked.

August furrowed his brows for a moment in thought. “Thirty-six hours, I believe, sir.”

Varagas nodded, absently. “How do you feel?”

August wrinkled his brow. “Sir?”

“You look great, Major,” the Captain said, turning his chair around to face him. “You’re tan. You look more focused than you have in months. How do you feel?”

August cleared his throat, then smiled, sheepishly. “Actually, sir, I feel pretty terrific, now that you mention it.”

Varagas nodded again. “That’s what Doran said. In fact–” he stood up from his chair and stretched, feeling the satisfying pop of joints as he did so. “Everyone who’s spent any time planetside has come back looking like they’ve spent six months on leave.”

August let out a single chuckle. “Yes, I would agree with that, sir.”

Varagas nodded and began a circuit of the Bridge. “Minerals,” he said as he paced. “Fossil fuels… gold and silver deposits.” He shook his head in wonderment, “And it makes you feel better. What have we stumbled upon?”

August shrugged. “I’d say it was a bounty, sir.”

Varagas stopped pacing and looked sharply at August. “Bounty,” he said, considering the word. “Bounty,” he said again. He nodded twice, then turned to the communications console. “Lieutenant Fitch,” he addressed the officer manning the console.

“Sir,” Fitch answered crisply.

“Send dispatch to ACSC.”

“Sir,” Fitch turned back to his board and opened a message file. “Message, sir?”

Varagas inclined his head for a moment, then dictated. “To ACSC Central, Ministry of Expansion, The Honourable Minister Saginaw; The CRV Servitude has completed preliminary survey of planet HG711-V5A77. Initial probe reports confirmed. In light of which, I am recommending the planet now be designated as Bounty. Details to follow.” Varagas stopped, considered his words, then nodded to himself, satisfied with the message’s content. “Send that with the usual complements,” he said, waving airily to Fitch.

Fitch nodded, “Aye, sir.” He closed the completed message file and attached the appropriate routing instructions. Then he compressed it for transmission and sent it. The pulse raced away from the Servitude’s main antennae and translated into fastspace. From there it would relay itself through the beacon system and back to the ACSC. “Message away, sir,” Fitch said. “Thirty-six hours estimated transit.”

“Very good.” Varagas sat back down in his command chair.

“A bit presumptive, perhaps, Captain?” Branmer asked, from behind Varagas’ chair.

Varagas whirled around and cocked an eyebrow at his First Officer. “Why presumptive, Rose? Bounty is well within the ACSC Sphere.”

Branmer looked at him pointedly. “You know the Hegemony still haven’t officially recognized the last three sphere expansions.”

Varagas shrugged and waved the argument away. “Even so, they wouldn’t dare lodge protests about a find this close to ACSC territory. It’s on the parliamentary agenda to accept HG711 into the Collective based on the preliminary data. Now that it’s confirmed the measure will be pushed through fairly quickly. Besides–” Varagas shrugged. “This planet’s conditions are perfectly suited to Terran biology. None of the Hegemony’s population would consider this a suitable habitation.” He shook his head and looked up at the Bridge’s fore. The entire curved front wall of the Servitude’s Bridge was a viewer that showed the wonderfully blue-green world that the survey ship was in orbit above. He took in a deep breath, as if he could breathe the miraculous air through space and into the vessel. “I’m not being presumptive, Rose,” he said, leaning back into his command chair. “I’m being visionary.”

Branmer chuckled politely and turned to walk away. A single tone from the forward consoles stopped her in mid-turn. She turned back and walked to the front console. “What is it?” she asked.

Scan Tech Mullens peered at the console in front of him. His fingers moved across the board. “Proximity sensors have picked up something,” he mumbled uncertainly.

“What have you picked up, Mr. Mullens?” the Captain asked, an edge of impatience in his voice.

Mullens shook his head. “It’s got an odd signature…”

Varagas and August exchanged worried glances. August shrugged. Varagas rubbed his chin, turned back to the forward viewer. “Let’s see if we can take a look at it,” he ordered. He stood up from his chair and adjusted his uniform jacket. Damn, he cursed. He had been on the verge of handing the Bridge to Branmer and thinking up an excuse to drop planetside. Now this.

He sighed and stepped down to the forward consoles. The view of the planet below was swiveling. Bounty’s orb disappeared to starboard. The screen’s view tilted past one of the two orbiting probes and then zoomed outwards. Without the interference of the reflected sunlight from Bounty the system’s starfield became visible. A red grid network flashed onto the viewer. A small yellow dot appeared just off the center of the viewer, labeled with a series of numbers and letters.

“That’s our object,” Branmer said.

Varagas nodded. “Let’s get close.” he said.

“Aye, sir,” she said, leaning into Mullens’ board and directing the viewer to magnify the object.

As the viewer closed in the object’s shape resolved itself and Varagas sucked his breath in through his teeth. The rest of the Bridge erupted into startled gasps as the picture became clear. Varagas stood up from his chair, involuntarily, his features a mask of pure astonishment.

My God!” he exclaimed in a strangled voice.

Karel Johannson read the latest sets of data from the robotic geological probe, laughed out loud and ran his fingers through his shock of unruly curls. His pale blue eyes sparkled in undisguised delight. “Look at this, Jasmine!” he said, excitedly. ” There’s platinum. In very high concentrations.”

Jasmine Aham looked up at the director of the scientific team and smiled. She was kneeling over a swift-running stream. She thought she could see some sort of silvery fish darting through the clear waters. She held up the testing vial and watched the light of the sun sparkle through it, creating dazzling prismatic displays, then clipped the vial into the pouch at her belt. She stood up, brushed back her long, black hair, and moved over to him.

As she approached him, she looked him up and down. He was moderately tall, and his figure was trim. He wore a short jacket over a pair of tight white trousers. Jasmine felt a flush of awareness rush through her. She felt her nipples harden. She smiled and breathed out. She should not be enjoying this so much.

She had noticed it soon after the party landed. At first she thought it was just the excitement of being planetside after being vessel-bound for so long, but it persisted. She had been conducting the survey in a routine manner when she noticed a growing awareness in herself of her own body. She became aware of the flushes soon after that, like waves of sensuous feeling that pulsed inside of her. She tried to ignore them, but found that it was impossible.

She had asked some of the others among the survey team if they had noticed anything similar. As the Chief Biologist, she persuaded them to reveal everything they felt. All agreed to a glow of healthy sensation, full of well being, and, they confided, they all seemed to sense a strong current of their own sexuality. From then on she’d noticed the team and the accompanying ship troops displaying signs of a heightened sexuality.

It had disturbed her slightly at first, but now that the test results were coming in she was beginning to realize that it was merely another remarkable side effect of this world that was turning out to be too-good-to-be-true. She decided to enjoy it.

She noted her own reactions as well as the reactions of the other members of the team and of the soldiers. She’d noticed the troops being particularly effected, the Servitude’s ground team being a healthy bunch to begin with. The men and women were suffused with a glow that practically shone in the dark. She assumed that it was only their discipline as soldiers that kept them from engaging in a wild flurry of coupling.

For herself, she was becoming more and more distracted by her own urges. She noticed more and more how appealing team leader Johannson really was.

Now she stood close behind him, her body achingly aware of his proximity. His scent tickled her nostrils (her sense of smell had also become preternaturally heightened since her arrival) and she bit down on her lip to suppress the urge to touch him.

Johannson stood and grinned. “This place is remarkable, Jasmine,” he said.

Jasmine nodded, absently, trying to concentrate on the data scrolling by on the telemetry screens that were arranged in a circle on the folding table. The team had pitched a tarp over the monitors in case of rainfall, but the day was perfectly sunny and the sky was completely clear. Jasmine looked up at the beautiful, deep blue sky and sighed. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something flash overhead.

“Hey, Brains,” a voice said. It was Second Lieutenant Harkness. Jasmine looked down and had to squint to see her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Johannson wince at his nickname, an appellation used by all the ship’s ground troops, much to Johannson’s dismay. Jasmine suppressed a smile as her eyes adjusted.

Harkness shielded her eyes and looked out towards the edge of the surrounding forest. Jasmine followed her gaze. Standing in front of the woods were a small tribe of Shum.

Jasmine started in surprise. They knew that the Shum could move quickly and silently through the thick jungles, but this caught her off-guard. A whole tribe — about thirty males, females and children — stood just inside the clearing where the ground team had set up their camp.

The natives of HG711 stood completely still, as was their habit. Jasmine had made a very cursory study of the Shum since the first native had strode purposefully into the middle of the camp two days ago. The lone Shum had evaded the Servitude’s troops sentries and had somehow managed to approach without setting off any of the team’s motion sensors, something not even the smallest of the local animals had managed to do. The Shum had given Major August quite a fright, although he had gone to great lengths to hide it by shouting at his soldiers.

The Shum were bipeds, short in stature and quite broad. They sported a leonine mane of an indeterminate composition. Jasmine had not yet gotten close enough to decide if it was hair, feathers, vegetation, or a combination of all three. They were heavily muscled and structurally similar to Terrans. They possessed brow ridges and were capable of producing sounds that consisted of clicks, pops and high pitched screeches. Their vocalizations and gesticulations had all the marks of a rudimentary language. However, Jasmine had never seen the Shum use that method of communication amongst themselves, only with the team from Servitude. Amongst themselves they were unnaturally silent.

Now the tribe stood together in the same silence. They looked up into the sky.

“What the fuck’s all this about?” Harkness asked.

Jasmine glanced at Johannson. He was looking up as well, trying to discern what it was that had captivated the natives’ interest. “What are they looking at?”

Johannson shook his head. “Damned if I know. I can’t see anything.”

Jasmine scanned the sky. She saw something — a glint of something bright. “There!” she said, pointing upwards. “Do you see it?”

Johannson shielded his eyes and looked up in the direction Jasmine had pointed out. Jasmine looked over to the troops. Some were pulling out binocs. “Is it the Servitude?” she asked.

Johannson shook his head. “Shouldn’t be. It’s in too high an orbit. We shouldn’t be able to see her from the ground like this.” He continued looking up.

Suddenly there was a murmur of disquiet from the troops. The ones with binocs were uttering exclamations of surprise. “What is it?” she asked Harkness.

Harkness looked at her, blankly. “It is the Servitude,” she said.

Jasmine felt a chill go through her. She looked over at the Shum. They stood perfectly still, watching.

“Shit!” she heard one of the soldiers utter the oath. “I don’t believe it! She’s dropping out of the sky! She’s dropping like a fucking stone!”

Johannson dropped his eyes from the sky and gave the soldiers an incredulous look. “That’s impossible!”

Harkness was looking up at the Servitude now through the binocs. “I’m reading the distance gauge,” she said. “He’s right. She’s coming down.”

Jasmine looked up. The object was clearer now. larger. It had begun to move in a strange, spiraling pattern. It wasn’t traveling. It was dropping. It was dropping directly towards them. “It’s gonna drop right on us!” Jasmine wailed.

She glanced over to where the tribe of Shum had been standing.

They were gone.

Get out of here!” a frightened voice shouted. “Get out of here now!”

Suddenly the whole camp was in confusion. Figures were scattering everywhere. Johannson grabbed her hand and they started to run towards the woods. Jasmine felt her arm being wrenched out of her socket as the team leader pulled her along behind him. “Run!” he was shouting.

They dived into the thick jungle. Jasmine was immediately stung by the thick vegetation as she dashed through it. Vines, grass, leaves, nettles, all seemed to whip at her body as she hurtled along through the bush. He feet couldn’t find solid purchase. The thick matting of dead leaves on the forest floor caused her feet to slide alarmingly. Her legs whipped backwards and she fell forwards. She lost her grip on Johannson’s hand.

She pushed herself up from the slick mess of rotted vegetation. “Karel!” she screamed.

Suddenly she heard a rumbling noise. She felt a heavy vibration pulsing against her body. Panicked, she leaped to her feet and scrambled forward madly. She held up her hands in front of her. Foliage cut deep bites into her outstretched palms and forearms. Her heart pounded in her chest as she hurtled further and further into the wood.

Soon the rumbling was a monstrous roar. The vibrations pummeled her body, driving the breath from her chest. The vibrations increased in intensity and soon she could not breath at all.

She ran as far as she could before she collapsed, out of breath and in pain. Her ears were full of the roaring now. She could hear nothing else.

Then there was a flash of light. She felt her body being lifted up. What little air there was in her lungs was forced out as the world spun crazily and was engulfed in flame.

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